Anti-Terrorism Funds Buy Wide Array of Pet Projects
"This is a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "It's a learning process -- we're going to make mistakes, and that's okay, but we're also going to be doing good things."
The new federal Department of Homeland Security is attempting to bring more accountability and regional cooperation to the process. But those arguing for much stronger direction from Washington say more money will be frittered away without a clear national plan spelling out what first responders need to be able to do in an emergency and more stringent guidelines on how the money should be spent.
"We're talking billions and billions, and this money ought to be spent according to national, minimum standards," said former senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations' homeland security task force. "Unless we get these standards in place, we're going to have money wasted."
Politics and Protection
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, lawmakers settled on money for New York, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania not just because of their proximity to the crash sites, but also because their representatives in Congress sat on the appropriations committees. Members made their own deals and in some cases inserted projects that did not fit into a larger, regional plan.
The politically active Bethesda-Chevy Chase Fire Squad lobbied Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) for protective clothing and equipment above that given to other Montgomery County stations -- and got it.
"Frankly, the county was surprised at some of the political maneuvering we were able to do," Chief Ned Sherburne proudly said of the squad's lobbying effort.
Since the original allotment, Congress has handed out emergency aid in keeping with another time-honored political tradition: Every member's district gets something.
While experts including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge say more money ought to go where the threat is greatest, Congress this year forced Ridge's agency to dole out the majority of the funds based on a population formula that gives such states as Kentucky and North Dakota more money than the nation's capital.
States and local governments are taking a similar approach. The District of Columbia Hospital Association chose a formula that guaranteed every city hospital a share of an $8 million grant. That meant that the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, a small, private hospital, received money to buy security cameras for its wards, a new van and a garage gate that officials say will help keep out illegal parkers from nearby American University.
This approach won't work in the war on terrorism, said Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican who is pushing legislation that would direct money based only on threat and risk assessments. "If we were talking about equipment and training for our armed forces, we wouldn't make the argument that it had to be done on a pork-barrel basis," he said. "The danger is that you solve a political problem but fail to achieve the homeland security mission because you are sending money to the wrong places for the wrong things."
Political considerations also played a role when it came time to award homeland security contracts. In the District, for instance, contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars went to a former mayor and to a close confidant of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
Max Brown, who from 1995 to 2000 served as Williams's legal counsel and then deputy chief of staff, was paid $130,000 as a subcontractor to a team hired to run emergency preparedness seminars. District officials said they knew of Brown's involvement with Kroll Government Services, a consulting firm, when the company won the bid. In its proposal, the company touted Brown's involvement, saying its team included members who "speak with a local accent."
"Was Brown's participation a dealmaker? No," said one senior aide who evaluated the competing bids and spoke on condition of anonymity. "Did it help? Yeah, probably."
Brown's firm, Group 360, also received a noncompetitive $15,000 contract to help the city lobby for changes in federal communications policy. Documents show that Brown initially was paid out of emergency funds, but the city repaid the money after The Post inquired about the contract.
Another Williams supporter, former District mayor Sharon Pratt, was awarded a no-bid bioterrorism consulting contract worth $236,000. Pratt successfully lobbied the city to give another no-bid contract worth $15,880 to a company on whose board she sat. According to e-mail records, the larger contract was made at the explicit urging of Williams's chief of staff, Kelvin J. Robinson.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company